Friday, 30 September 2016

Frugal Friday...



At 9.10am this morning I heard the words "I can confirm that you have just cleared your mortgage" down the phone - the lovely chap at Virgin Money sounded almost as pleased to say it as I did to hear it! Long term readers of this blog will know that we've been working towards this for quite a long while - since Spring 2008 in fact when a chance conversation took us from talking about overpaying our mortgage to actually doing it!

I tweeted about our new found Mortgage Free status this morning, and thanks to a RT from Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert fame it got quite a lot of interest and congratulations. LOVELY that total strangers will take the time to comment on something like that, so thank you to them! One question that was asked, though, was what tips we could give others, and that got me thinking...

Firstly - start by getting your house in order, financially. Work out exactly what your outgoings are, and what surplus you have left each month. Then check you actually DO have that amount left over - a spending diary can be helpful!

Don't just talk about overpaying, do it! People use all sorts of excuses for not getting on with it - "I don't know if my mortgage deal allows it..." ring the mortgage company and ask! "I don't know how to go about it" - usually it's as easy as asking the mortgage company to increase your Direct debit, and telling them to take OP's off the capital, not the term - that one is important! The big one is usually "I can't overpay enough to make a difference" - oh yes you can! As little as £10 a month starts to make an impact, and you can increase as time goes on. EVERYTHING extra you pay chips away at the interest you will pay over the term.

Fund your overpayments first off by making savings in your outgoings, not by reducing your standard of living. Take a look at your energy bills and if you're not on the best deal - switch! That saving can be added to the mortgage payment. Negotiate a deal with Sky or Virgin for your TV, broadband & phone - haggling with those guys works superbly and again, anything saved can go straight to the mortgage.

PLAN! If you plan upfront where your money is going, and ensure that everything is allocated to where it needs to go, you know exactly how much spare you have that can be used to fund overpayments. We have found that savings accounts attached to our current accounts work brilliantly - at the start of each month when we get paid automatic transfers send money across to those for the things we budget for - car expenses, holiday, household expenses and that sort of thing. Personal spending money gets transferred to our personal accounts, and the joint account then doesn't get touched for general spending, it;s just DD's etc that come out of it. At the end of the month any surplus got transferred to our "Mortgage OP account" and then headed across to the mortgage itselt at a suitable point.

Don't try to cut everything  back to the absolute bone. I've read so many blogs over the past few years with people not only cutting back their quality of life to zero, but berating others for not doing the same, and they all have one thing in common - they are not mortgage free now. Go at it steadily but with determination, heat your house, eat decent food, go out occasionally and have fun - those are all the things that will keep you motivated and stop you feeling as though it's too tough. Have fun, but budget for it.

Above all remember that even the tiniest saving can help. Maybe try taking the odd pennies off your account balance each time you log in to your online banking. Turn the thermostat down a few degrees, or if you are on Economy 7 electricity fit timeswitches to your washing machine and dishwasher (please take note the Fire Service urge caution on using appliances overnight/while you are out) so they can run overnight on the cheap rate. Change standard lightbulbs for low energy ones. Stocktake your kitchen cupboards, freezer and larder and challenge yourself to use up the contents thereof so saving money on your food bill.

As we sit here tonight within 4 walls that are entirely owned by us, I can 100% tell you that all the work on it has absolutely been worth it - the feeling this morning when I got off the phone was just amazing. Old habits die hard though - we're not going out for a posh meal, and there's no champagne being opened - instead it's our favourite celebration meal of an indian takeaway, and beer from the bottles we had in the larder already! Does it feel like a hardship? Does it hell!

Robyn

(ps - I totally appreciate the irony of a Frugal Friday post on a day when I spent £20,606 before breakfast!)

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

And finally...

...that's the UK airshow season at a close for us. I spent yesterday at RAF Scampton for the Reds final ISP's (In season Practises) of the year - then on Thursday the jets and Circus depart for India on the first leg of their tour. The other Blues going as part of the support crew will also be heading off but their departures are staggered over several days throughout the week between now and Saturday. The next time I will see the jets fly now will probably be in the New Year, which in itself feels odd as normally this time in the year we're looking forward to winter training and all the fun and games that go along with that.

It's been another brilliant year - no question about it. From the season opener for the team at Shuttleworth in May right through to yesterday we've had so much fun again. Once again we have people leaving - my friend Nicky has already departed the Squadron having been promoted and posted into a new role. Three of the pilots will be leaving the team when they return from tour - Synchro leader Steve, and Reds 8 & 9 - Stew and Joe. They'll be missed as always when they move on. On the bright side we have a new bunch who will be moving into the coveted "Circus" roles backseating in the jets during next season - including a very good friend's husband so SHE'S over the moon at all the photos she will get of him doing his thing during 2017!

Possibly the best way possible of finishing the season, for us, was this...


...we've waited a while for that. Extra special for having Lingy (Red 10) in there too - and for me also because it's the three of us - me, Claire & Tom - who've done so much and shared so many of the amazing experiences over the past few seasons. It just wouldn't have been quite the same if one of us had missed out. Bloody epic. Smiling may happen for a while yet... ;-)

Robyn

Friday, 23 September 2016

Frugal Friday...

The summer is such a difficult time of year for me to even attempt to keep up the frugal thing. In everyday life we still carry on as normal - using the washing machine and dishwasher overnight, and showering when we first get up to make use of the night-rate on the electric. Buying basic or budget brands where they are are good as branded. Driving economically. Shopping around for things. All that and more. BUT at that time of year I'm away almost every weekend photographing those Little Red Jets, and that always involves a lot of driving, and often an overnight stay, and buying food while I'm away...However it also involves a lot of fun, and some huge laughs, and so it's well worth (for me) me spending pretty much all my disposable income on it, during these few months!

As ever, there are ways and means of cutting the cost down a bit, too. Hotels generally get booked as soon as we have even an inkling of which shows we're likely to want to do - booked through one of the booking websites via Topcashback on a "cancellable" basis, and pricechecked through a site like Trivago as well. If I'm booking for myself alone I'll also often look at booking a little further out, and travelling in to the show as this can often save a fortune. If there is an option to use public transport then I always see if that will work out economically if it's practical to do so. For group meals out in the evenings after some of the shows we tend to default to Wetherspoons pubs if there is one - the food is reliable even if not gourmet standard, and in a group which generally includes a couple of real ale drinkers, a Guinness fan, a gin queen and a wine-a-holic, it's great to be able to go somewhere that we know we'll each be able to get our tipple of choice without being charged through the nose for it. We're all in the same boat mostly as far as needing to keep costs sensible, so these measures mean we can have more fun, for less dosh - a no-brainer! I set aside money through the winter months to cover the cost of my summer entertainment, and this works well for me - I can't justify running up costs on credit cards etc - I'm just not comfortable doing that as the shadow of "what happens if I can't pay it back" would always be hanging over me spoiling the fun.

The things that tend to slip by me during the busy time of year are things like meal-planning - I have a basic fund of meals that can be rustled up very quickly indeed, but that are still healthy and above all tasty. On the day of writing for example dinner will be some delicious Norfolk Pink new potatoes, boiled to tender and then gently tossed in a pan with chunks of bacon and courgette, a drizzlwe of good rapeseed oil, and served up with some fresh sweetcorn bought in Norfolk over the weekend. It'll be delicious, plates will be cleared, but it doesn't appear on ANY meal plan, anywhere! Those same potatoes (I bought a 5kg sack from our favourite campsite at the weekend) will feature a lot over the next few weeks - and at a cost of £3 for that 5kg sack that's unquestionably a frugal way of eating!

I've got a few ideas that I may try to put in place over the winter to see if next summer can be just a bit more organised on this front. The first of these is a rotating 3 or 4 week meal plan - not necessarily something rigid with "this meal on that day" but more a rough weekly "fund" of recipes - some quick to prepare, others a little more time-consuming. So as a rough guideline, a salad day, a pasta day, an egg day, a veggie day, plus options like stews or soups. The first step top this is going to be to go back over old meal plans I think and get together a full list of the sorts of meals we're happy to eat in each category - then from there work them into rough sets of 5 days. 2 days a week are complicated by MrEH having rugby training - meals need to either be very quick for him to prep when he gets in (omelettes for example), or something that I can prep and just leave in the fridge for him (salads fit this category brilliantly!). This is going to need a lot of planning and thinking about I guess - and at the moment I'm finding it slightly daunting. I'll keep you posted!

Robyn

Monday, 19 September 2016

That photography thing...

I realised recently that next year it will be 10 years since I started this blog. I started it originally to make myself take photos - but it's evolved somewhat since then! Still though I see photos as being at the heart of it - and indeed more and more photography is so much a part of me now it's difficult to ever imagine it not being.

For those who aren't aware, my Grandfather on my Mum's side was a photographer. (He was a musician as well, but I've come to the conclusion that I didn't inherit much of that!) As a result there are a LOT of very lovely photos of Mum taken by him from her babyhood right through to her & Dad's wedding. Sadly he died when I was three so while there are still quite a lot of photos of me growing up, they're rather more "kodak instamatic" that the earlier family shots. (Sorry Mum, but I know you'll agree!). I do often find myself wondering just how astonished he would be if he could see the camera gear I'm shooting with now - it's a world away from what he would have been used to in terms of instancy, but I suspect that may have been something that would have really appealed to him. In some ways though things really aren't so different - to get the most from my gear I still need to understand the fundamentals - metering is done via the camera these days rather than by using a separate light meter, but things like depth of field and freezing/blurring of movement are done in the same way. Perhaps in some ways the biggest change within camera themselves once you remove the film -v- sensor/memory card aspect is the way in which we change ISO these days - with film you select your film according to the conditions - a very bright sunny day - ISO100 film, for more standard use ISO200, and for lower light ISO400. Anything above that was harder to get and demanded a certain acceptance of graininess  ("noise") in the final print. Now of course it's done by the press of a button and the turn of a dial - and can be adjusted to far more precise increments. My current DSLR produces almost no discernable "noise" at ISO800, and indeed will produce perfectly acceptable results at far higher levels than that, also.
Chaffinch - Canon 7DMk2 @ ISO2500 
Now I have the ability to take a camera pretty much everywhere I go, in one form or another. of course a lot of my leisure time activities involves carrying the full kit, but even on a regular working day for example, my iPhone is always with me, and indeed sometimes I'll default to shooting with that in preference to the DSLR! The days of me needing to own a small compact camera as well are long gone. That "portability" is something that I imagine Grandpop would have heartily approved of!

My current kit is my Canon 7DMk2 - which is truly remarkable. Nicest camera I have ever owned without question. That pairs up a lot of the time with the wonderful Canon L series 100-400mm zoom, for aviation & wildlife purposes, or with the Sigma 18-250mm for more general "walkabout" stuff. The third lens in my collection is still the rather brilliant canon 50mm  f1.8 "nifty fifty" - cheap as chips but really packing a punch. I'm about to upgrade my second body - I'm currently still using my old 40D as a backup body -  I bought it back in early 2009 so it's done incredibly well. When I bought my 7DMk2 I had no hesitation in keeping the 40 and part-exing the original 7D, though - it really IS that good. God knows how many shots I've taken on it - it had a new shutter assembly fitted a few years ago so I'm guessing that will have seen it past the 150k clicks mark, though. Coincidentally it is also the second nicest I've ever owned...! I'm hopeful that its replacement - the recently released Canon 80D, will prove to be a worthy successor.


I'm feeling that I need to get back to challenging myself photographically, though, So much of what I do these days is just "camera, lens, known settings" as a starting point, I want to stretch myself a bit, do more stuff where I really have to think about what I'm doing, how I'm setting up, and the results I want to get. I've a vague notion of setting myself a series of challenges through the winter months - while there's not much going on in my more familiar aviation world. I'm still musing on what these challenges might be, currently, but in my head at the moment is:
- A day shooting ONLY in black & white (via settings within the camera)
- More days out shooting only with the 50mm lens
- A day where I restrict myself to 36 shots only, and cover over the screen on the back to replicate the "film experience"
I've got other ideas too - limiting myself to using manual mode, perhaps breaking out my old film camera and running a couple of rolls of film through that (Almost certainly the rather lovely Ilford XP-2) - that would also limit me to the 50mm lens, as my Sigma is "digital only" and won't work well with the old camera. I'd like to do some more low-light photography - something I used to absolutely love but have got out of the habit of doing in recent years. Some more documentation of interesting areas locally maybe. I'm also intending to pick the brains of a good friend - who also happens to be an award-winning RAF photog - to see what he suggests, maybe even get him to set me a challenge himself. I think what I'll end up doing is making a list of things I'd like to do photographically and then ticking them off as I go, with no particular timescale. I can sense a new page of "plans" in my Bullet Journal, can't you?!

Robyn


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Playing by the rules...

...some people are just really good at "doing things properly" - you know what I mean? They are the ones whose clothes are always ironed, who have proper organised "date nights" with their partners, whose homes are tidy, meal plans magneted onto their very tidy (and clean!) fridge doors and the lid to the recycling bin actually closes... Then there's the rest of us. Now I don't know about you, but I've never been good at sticking to the rules. As a child, colouring in, my attention invariably wandered and I went outside the lines...in fact, that sums up my life really - pretty bright, and colourful, and fun, but a lot of that bright, colourful fun just manages to sneak outside the lines and look a bit untidy. *Sigh*. I've spent years feeling I should be "that person" - the one who tidies their winter clothes away neatly in April and brings them out again in October. The person who knows precisely where to find things, and never forgets a birthday (sorry to all those who either haven't had cards from me this year, or got them very, VERY late. Again) Some of those things I'd even like to achieve - a tidy house would be my dream, but unfortunately I live with MrEH and this comes lower on his priority list than it does on mine. Plus I'm actually a bit rubbish about keeping up the sort of routines that enable true tidiness, "stuff" just seems to creep in. I'm reminded here of a conversation with a good friend of mine, in connection with a planned move of accommodation that he was preparing for - he was complaining about the amount of stuff he seemed to have accumulated, to which I replied "I had you down as a bit of a neat-freak?" "Yeah I am!" he responded "...but I'm a hoarder, too!" Once I stopped laughing I realised that yes, I can identify with that!

Regardless of how organised I can be through the quieter, winter months, things tend to get away from me again during the summer. When I'm away most weekends doing brilliantly fun airshow stuff, and then spending most of my weekday evenings sorting out the photos from those weekends, boring stuff like putting clothes away and (ugh) dusting tend to get pushed into the background. I start the year writing everything into a diary...dates, birthdays, anniversaries, you name it, it will go in there. By mid July though? Less so, and by August I'm a stressy heap of disorganised forgetfulness all over again. and that just isn't good. Oh and I beat myself up for not managing to keep on top of everything, which just adds to the stressiness...yes, life in my head is a complete ball sometimes!

Is there another way (she wondered, out loud)? well yes, I think there is (obviously - is there wasn't, this would be the shortest blog post ever wouldn't it!) - it's just about finding the ways that things can work for me. I suspect the first thing is to keep things brief, not overload myself (the "you can do 15 minutes of anything" approach) and to take things a day at a time. I wrote elsewhere recently "And everything else can wait" - and do you know, it really can! SO:

Lists: I know they work for me, but letting them get overly long is counter productive.
15 minute bursts: 15 minutes of tidying somewhere at home EVERY day I'm there.
Goals: Short lists of 5 items - nothing earth shattering but just things I want to get sorted. New items to go here mean a new list, and that list will never be more than 5 items long.
Wants: Things I'd LIKE to do, stuff for me. If it never happens, it doesn't matter.
Preparation: whether it's getting stuff ready for the morning (clothes etc) or batch cooking ahead of time.
Prioritisation: Key to organisation and getting things done, I guess?

My "Bullet-esque Journal" is going to help me here. (Yes I KNOW it's a fad, and I KNOW 90% of people will stop using them once it stops being trendy, I'm hoping that as it's a variation on the diary/notebook thing I've done for ages anyway, I'll be in that other 10%, OK? Humour me here!) I'm a visual person, and having stuff written out in a very easy to follow, visual way works far better for me than disjointed dates on a page with no room to elaborate on anything much. Plus I actually like writing, as opposed to typing - notebooks are a regular feature of my life. Of course I'm not following the rules - but as someone else pointed out we're pretty sure there aren't "Bullet Journal police" out there ready to pounce at every incorrect indicator or missing page number. Mine's sectioned (Yes, as I should probably be, before anyone else jumps in there!), a sort of diary bit, a "planning" section, somewhere for finances as that is a regular thing I use a notebook for, and a bit for general notes and to-do stuff.
Weekly pages are just that - a page, with room for planned "stuff", a meal plan, stuff that needs to be booked and a SHORT to do list. It can't get longer than that as that's the space available for it - simple, yes? I'm also allocating a page per month to keep track of the bigger picture, and a "forward planning" grid of 12 blocks which will help to keep track of things planned for next year, thus removing some of the panic associated with potential double-bookings.

I need to remember that I don't have to do it all, that sometimes the path of least resistance is the easiest path to take. Sometimes, "enough" is absolutely fine. My home doesn't have to be worthy of a "Homes and Gardens" spread, it just has to be somewhere I want to go home to on a cold night. I need to remember to set aside time to organise myself, not just to try to hit everything head on. I've got 8 months until the airshow season gets up to speed again - is that enough time to develop habits that I may be able to continue even when I'm busy, I wonder? 

Friday, 15 July 2016

Frugal Friday

Remember that frugal thing? Well we're still doing it. It's like I said a while back though - the more it becomes a way of life, the more it becomes difficult to think of things to say about it. It's just what we do. We have relaxed a wee bit on things as time has moved on - although we've always been inclined to "go out and do stuff" even within the constraints of paying off every penny we can against the mortgage - there has always been that quality of life balance, as we recognised from the start that while if you're in debt (by which I mean mortgage, credit cards, overdrafts or loans) then cutting back everything you can is a great way of dealing with it, there's also the risk you end up burning out and saying "sod it" too.

I dipped in to Cass's "Frugal Family" blog recently though, and her "50 ways you can save" post gave me an idea, so here I am, first time in a while for one of these on a Friday...

My "50 ways" are split into sections - centered around things we've done, and how we worked to make our money work as well as we could for those things. Even if you're not scratching around for every penny, we all work hard for our money so it's only right that we should make the most of it.

10 tips for Travel:
We live just a few miles from Stansted airport, so the temptation to whizz off for a long weekend is very much there. Our next trip is a couple of days in Dublin, and was actually a fairly last minute decision, not the best basis on which to keep costs down, but we still did our best!
- Book flights as early as you can, particularly with budget airlines
- Be flexible - our original plan was to hire a car for two days, however we were going to get no change from £65 for this. Instead we've bought travelpasses which should cover us for ALL our travel while we're there and have cost us E10 (no Euro symbol on this keyboard!) each. Bargain!
- Likewise, parking at Stansted was going to be pricey due to the short-notice - but we can park at our local station for the weekend for £5, and the train will cost us about £14 return.
- A hotel a short distance out can save you cash! If you're happy to spend 30 minutes on a bus, train or tram, you can be quids in, particularly in popular destinations
- for foreign trips, plan your spending. We've got one of Martin Lewis' ideal Credit Cards for overseas spending, so we'll be spending as much of what we need to as possible on that, and of course as ever it will be cleared off as soon as we get the bill. (It'll also earn us a little bit of cashback)
- Remember you'll need cash too - and work out how best to get it. Some credit/Debit cards allow you to withdraw free of charge, others make a charge, in which case you may be best to get your holiday money in advance. We'll also be raiding our roadkill pig to round up all the Euros that we've found in the street.
- online research is a lot cheaper than buying guidebooks for where you're going, and you often find snippets that the books miss, too.
- Similarly for general sightseeing info, older guidebooks bought from charity shops are still fine, just don't expect admission charges to places to be the same!
- If the place you're visiting has a great market then make use of it for food for an outdoor or hotel room picnic - it usually works out FAR cheaper than going out for a meal, and can taste every bit as good, or better!
- Pack light to save on baggage charges - I can do a weekend on hand luggage even when I need a full bag of camera gear by packing cleverly into the gaps around my kit, and stashing stuff into pockets. Remember also you can usually carry on an "airport shopping" bag - so a bottle of water bought airside means you can then load other stuff into that same bag.

10 tips to save at home:
- Monitor your electricity & gas use regularly - then if you see a sudden sharp spike you can work out what's caused it before it runs up a big bill
- set reminders on your phone to check you're on the best deal for utilities once a year or so
- Shop around for insurance renewals well in advance of the policies expiring - this reduces the temptation to just let them auto-renew.
- Hoovering regularly maintains carpets in good condition for longer, likewise, clean up spills as soon as they happen!
- Girls, when hair-washing, shampoo twice using just a 10p sized blob at most each time - first time concentrate on the roots, second time, the lengths. The first wash won't lather much, but that's fine, it's still cleaning! (Thanks to my lovely hairdresser friend Kate for this one!)
- putting your shampoo in a dispenser bottle not only looks nicer in your bathroom, but also means you're not so tempted to use too much
- When you think that toothpaste tube is empty, lay it on a flat surface and run your finger up from bottom to top to push up all the paste that's left in the tube
- Don't leave electrical items on standby unless you have to - things like your Sky Box will be a nuisance if you keep turning them off and on again, but TV's, radios and stereos can mostly go off at the switch to get rid of those power-sapping little red lights!
- If you're going away for more than a couple of days, think about what you can do to minimise power drain - the less electrical items left switched on, the safer your home in your absence, too!
- If you have an Economy7 meter, set timers to run things like your dishwasher, washing machine etc overnight (so long as it won't be antisocial to your neighbours to do so!), and use the thermostat on your hot water cylinder to heat that on the cheap rate, too

10 tips for shopping:
- The money mantra - Do I need it, will I use it, can I get it cheaper? - before you buy
- If you decide to buy it, can you go through a cashback site to earn a little something back?
- Look on the High Street, but if they won't price-match to online, don't hesitate to walk away, on big ticket items in particular
- For new electrical appliances, remember to check their energy usage - our new shower costs far less to run than the old one, which has covered the cost of running the new extractor and the heated towel rail
- Cashback credit cards - while they're not as lucrative as they were a couple of years ago, they ARE still out there. Just use them for purchases you'd make anyway, and pay off in full at the end of each month
- one for the photographers - there are a LOT of sites out there selling really good quality, well looked after second hand gear, the likes of MPB Photographic and CameraWorld also offer part-ex deals on the items you're replacing!
- Another one for the photographers - if you're set on buying new for a particular item, there is a cracking dedicated comparison site so you can see where the best UK deals can be had - check out camerapricebuster.co.uk
- A lot of us having things we buy regularly, from habit - but it's those costs that can mount up. A £2.30 latte every working day on your way to the office? That's a cool £500 over a year - now think what you could do with that amount of money.
- For food shopping, write a list, not only does it mean you don't forget things, it also means you get round the store faster as you don't have to keep backtracking!
- Apps/websites like MySupermarket are great if you have the option to shop at several different supermarkets - work out where is cheapest for which items and plan accordingly!

In the kitchen:
- batch cook and never use the oven for just one item!
- If your oven is electric, and your microwave has a combi/convection setting, it'll almost certainly be cheaper to use the micro than heating the main oven.
- Stock-take your fridge regularly to avoid waste
- Remember - slightly over-ripe fruit and some yogurt = a delicious (and expensive to buy) smoothie! Sometimes leftovers can be a delicious treat!
- If you're making a curry, bolognese, stew or chilli, always consider padding it out to make an additional portion or two which can be frozen as a "home made" ready meal.
- a packet of gnocchi in the larder, butter in the fridge and some fresh herbs in pots outside, can help avoid the temptation of a trip to the takeaway because you've got "nothing in for dinner!"
- plan your meals to use up anything you have left over from the previous week
- PLAN YOUR MEALS!! (Seriously, even a rough plan of meals you enjoy and some basic ingredients always to hand can make all the difference)
- keep the kitchen tidy and stay on top of washing up - if it's a nice environment, and you don't have to "clear the decks" before you can do anything, you'll be far more inclined to cook in it - that equals less impromptu takeaways!
- If you can afford it, and enjoy it, plan in a takeaway every so often - this journey is NOT about depriving yourself of everything fun. BUT, give thought to what takeaways you really love, and what you could create at home for just-as-good results - for us it's fish & chips, chip-shop ones are incomparable!

10 tips to boost your savings:
- If you see money on the floor, pick it up. There's no shame in it and it's NOT beneath you. If someone else doesn't want it, you may as well have it!
- When you log in to check your online banking, take any odd pennies from the balance of your current account(s) and transfer them to a dedicated savings account - not enough each time to notice, but it does mount up! At the end of a year use the money for something lovely.
- Each time you manage to make a saving on a utility bill, so your monthly Direct Debit amount drops, set a bank-transfer to send the saving into a savings account. As you make further savings, increase the amount of the transfer accordingly. We currently have £96 a month going to savings just from having done this for a few years!
- Work out a monthly budget and stick to it - if you should have money left over at the end of the month, but you don't, keep a spending diary to work out why!
- Budget to save if you possibly can - if you should have money spare at the end of the month then budget to move it straight to savings before you're tempted to spend it!
- Check what savings accounts your bank offers for day to day savings, but be prepared to look further afield for larger amounts. In any event it makes sense to get the best interest you can. Nationwide currently offers a regular saver account which pays 5% for its first 12 months
- If you use an ISA, keep your eye on its interest rate - rates have dropped across the board since the Personal Savings Allowance was brought in but there are still deals to be had.
- If your current account pays interest, learn when it arrives and as soon as it has, transfer it to savings.
- Pigs rule, OK! Piggy Banks are the coolest thing - so drag that small change out of your purse, wallet or pocket, and go feed a pig!
- If you use TopCashBack or Quidco, and get your cashback paid by BACS, transfer it straight to savings as soon as it hits your account so you see a benefit from your savvy shopping, ratyher than it just getting frittered away!

All of the above are tried and tested by us - I'm not a fan of putting stuff in here that we can't be pretty sure works. Yes there's merits in looking at changing bank, and getting a cash incentive to do so, but we've been with our current account provider for, well, forever, actually, in my case, and we love their customer service and that they are a building society, not a bank. They do accounts that suits us. We have a branch in town where we can see someone if we need to. So we won't be changing, no matter how much cash someone wants to give us. Yes we could get TV, Phone & Broadband cheaper than Sky, but they give us the service we want, for a price we can afford (with regular haggling!) so I won't be urging you to change there, either. A lot of this money saving lark is about finding what works for you, and not being over-influenced by other people's accounts of living on dry bread and water, wearing all your clothes rather than heating the house, and having a cold shower just once a week to save on heating the water. Between you and me, most of them probably aren't practising what they preach, anyway! ;-)

Robyn


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Who cares...? (And who cares if they don't)

I posted a while ago that I was struggling with what to put here these days. With the time to put anything at all. and although I've posted a few times since, that remains unchanged - I've still been wrangling in my head with the same old "nobody's interested" thoughts - which is why THIS POST from Jen over at My Make and Mend Life really struck a chord with me yesterday. Her phrase about comparing other people's beautiful outsides with her own scrunched up insides especially - that makes SO much sense!

It's easy to lose sight of the fact that, online, what you see of a person is what they present to you, what they want you to see. That person who's so upbeat, so cheerful, so damned GOOD at everything they turn their hands to - in real life might possibly be full of gloom and not achieving half what they sound as though they are - it's just that the bits they show you make it all look shiny. Remember "Friends Reunited"? Remember how utterly implausible it was that everyone you'd been at school with had ALL landed these high-powered impressive sounding jobs, and how it made you feel ever so slightly like perhaps YOU should have done that, too? Well here's the thing - I bet you anything you like the majority either didn't have the job they were leading you to believe that they did, (case in point, the lass who I was at school with who I knew full well was working on a florist's stall at the station - suffice to say that was NOT what her FR profile claimed she was doing!). It's not all about people trying to "big themselves up" though - sometimes it's the way we read what people have written, the way we interpret it. Sometimes it's the very fact that we compare ourselves to others, and to how they're making their lives sound, without sparing a thought for whether that life would make US happy, or whether it would be a form of torture for us.

Blogging is a funny old thing, and I realised recently that the thing I've lost sight of comes back directly to the way I am about things in real life. I said to a friend recently that my default setting is to always assume that people won't want to hear from me. I'm rubbish at suggesting phone calls with pals, for this very reason - there's a bit of me that always thinks "they'll make an excuse, they won't want to chat with me, they'll have more interesting folk to speak/spend time with" - it always surprises me when someone suggests a phone call for a natter, in fact, it AMAZES me. If I don't phone you, it's not that I don't want to speak to you, it's that I assume that YOU won't want to speak with ME!  I hesitate to tell people when I consider them a good, or close friend, because I'm always wary of the fact that they'll be embarrassed because they don't feel the same - that to them I'm nothing more than an acquaintance. I'm reluctant, a lot of the time, to suggest to friends that we go places, or do things, for the same reason - I assume that while they might well want to go to those places, or do those things, they won't want to do it with me, and will then feel awkward about refusing.

I have a friend - yes, I'll go as far as to say a good friend - whose "default setting" when stressed, or busy, or unhappy about something, is to shut themselves away from the wider world. I know they will be keeping in contact with the people who are absolutely central to their everyday life - partner and parents - but beyond that, radio silence. I've spent years feeling each time this happens that it's their subtle way of telling me that they don't want to be in touch any more, but they're uncomfortable with actually telling me that, and only recently have I realised that actually, it's just their coping mechanism when things are tough, and that the best thing for me to do is to be there - to drop a text every now and again, a tag on social media with something of interest to them - just little things to let them know that I'm still here, still on their side. And as and when things settle down for them, we'll be back to normal. I don't like it, but it's part of that person, part of the way they are, and while when they're quiet I miss them like mad, ultimately, it's not a reflection on me, it's just the way things are.

Confidence can be such an issue for so many people - and we should all remember that the person we see who appears to be absolutely super-confident may actually be anything but. I started blogging in the first place not because I thought anyone would want to read, or to look at the pictures I posted, but for me, as a record of things we'd done, places we'd been, small triumphs, that sort of thing, and I'd really like to get back to doing it for that reason. I actually like looking back on my blog posts, I can get lost for ages in stuff I've written before, and so often that reminds me of things I used to enjoy but I've lost sight of. So I guess the bottom line is who cares if anyone else wants to read my ramblings. If I can look back on them in a few years and think "Oh yes!" then that's as good a reason for carrying on, as any.

Robyn